ATLANTA – In what had to feel like some sort of twisted April Fool’s joke, Atlanta Hawks’ center Dewayne Dedmon – he of the one attempt from 3-point range in two seasons with the Orlando Magic from 2014-16 – confidently drilled one three after another on Sunday against his former team.
Meanwhile, Nikola Vucevic – Dedmon’s former teammate both at the University of Southern California and with the Magic – looked nothing like solid shooter he’s been throughout his NBA career, repeatedly misfiring on shots from in close and from afar.
Dedmon, who has worked tirelessly to grow his game from the outside to adapt to today’s perimeter-based offenses in the NBA, scored 17 points and hit three 3-pointers as Atlanta kept the cold-shooting Magic at bay in a 94-88 victory at Philips Arena.
The night was a forgettable one for Vucevic, the longest-tenured Magic player on the roster. He made just three of 19 shots and missed all four of his 3-point attempts in 31 minutes. He finished with 10 points and 14 rebounds, but it was still a far cry from the triple-double numbers he posted in Atlanta in early December.
``It’s very frustrating because I feel like if I had made, not even half of my shots, but just a couple more of them, things would have been different for us,’’ Vucevic said of one of the worst shooting nights of his seven-year NBA career. ``It would have given us more flow. It was a lot of good looks and easy ones, but it’s just part of the game.’’
The Magic (22-54) lost their third straight game and fell for an 11th time in the past 13 games. Also, Orlando dropped to 7-31 on the road.
One bright spot for Orlando, however, was rookie forward Jonathan Isaac hitting three 3-pointers and scoring a career-best 15 points. Isaac, who is still on a minutes’ restriction while recovering from a recent foot injury, appeared to have slightly sprained his left ankle with 2:16 to play, but he stayed in the game and pronounced himself as recovered following a postgame plunge in the cold tub.
More frustrating than the minor ankle turn was the fact that the Magic could never fully get over the hump over the final three quarters of the game. Orlando led by six early on, lost the lead late in the first period and never led again. Orlando closed within two points of Atlanta twice in the fourth quarter, but never could string together enough stops or shots to grab the lead.
``Really frustrating,’’ Isaac said of Orlando’s inability to overtake Atlanta. ``It was over and over again (where) we’d get it to within five, to within three and we just couldn’t make plays.’’
Atlanta tied a NBA record by attempting just one free throw in the game. The Hawks did shoot 48.2 percent from the floor with 11 3-pointers against Orlando’s defense. The Magic want to keep foes off the free throw line, but head coach Frank Vogel was unhappy about his team’s aggressiveness on the defensive end.
``We don’t want to put the other team on the free throw line – that’s always a point of emphasis – but there were several plays at the rim where we could have made them earn it on the free throw line and we didn’t,’’ Vogel said.
Added forward Aaron Gordon, who made just four of 13 shots and finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and three assists: ``We could have been more aggressive (defensively). They were making shots and we were definitely too soft on defense if that’s all we came out with was one free throw (for the opponent).’’
D.J. Augustin (20 points) and Mario Hezonja (14 points) kept Orlando within striking distance on a night when it shot just 34.4 percent from the floor and made only 10 of 36 3-point shots. It was a third straight game where the Magic struggled mightily on the offensive end.
``We have to stay confident with our shots and keep playing for each other,’’ Gordon said. ``And we’ve got to get out in transition. If we don’t get out and run that kills half or like 75 percent of our offense if we’re not getting out in transition.’’
Atlanta (22-55) came into Sunday riding a five-game losing skid and having dropped 11 of the previous 12 games. Tyler Dorsey led the Hawks with 19 points and drilled three 3-pointers. Atlanta was able to tie the season series at 2-2 with Sunday’s victory.
Orlando was once again without Evan Fournier (knee sprain), Terrence Ross (knee sprain) and Jonathon Simmons (bruised wrist), while the Hawks have shut down standout point guard Dennis Schroder (ankle sprain) and also were didn’t have Kenneth Bazemore (bone bruise in knee), Malcolm Delaney (ankle sprain) and Jaylen Morris (ankle sprain). But it Dedmon, who repeatedly made Orlando pay when it sagged too much to protect against dribble penetration.
``It’s great to see someone who has worked and now they are bringing it to the games and it’s continuing to pay off for him,’’ Gordon said of Dedmon, his former teammate of two seasons in Orlando. ``Dewayne has gotten so, so, so much better since we first played together. He picked up basketball not too long ago – in high school – so he’s going to continue to get better and better. I’m happy for him.’’
Sunday’s game was the first of a two-game road trip for the Magic. They were scheduled to leave Atlanta after the game for New York where they will face the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. Orlando will be back at the Amway Center on Wednesday to host the rebuilding Dallas Mavericks.
Ice cold from the floor in the early going, the Magic got untracked in the third quarter. Orlando outscored Atlanta 21-13 to get within 69-64 by the start of the fourth period.
Isaac had a 3-pointer and a layup early in the period to give himself 15 points and a new career high at the NBA level.
``Throughout the entire season (the Magic coaching staff) has been telling me to `let it fly,’’ especially from that corner-three spot,’’ Isaac said. ``Through the course of the season, as I have gotten more comfortable and confident with that shot, I’ve tried to just let it go.’’
Orlando had big troubles on both ends of the floor in the early going and trailed the Hawks 56-43 at the half. The Magic shot just 25 percent in the first quarter and only 34 percent in the opening 24 minutes as Vucevic (two of nine) and Gordon (two of six) both struggled.
Isaac and Hezonja were two of the bright spots in the early going. Isaac had 10 points by halftime by drilling two 3-pointers and converting a dunk in transition that was set up by a feed from fellow rookie Wes Iwundu. His first-half production was one shy of his NBA high of 11 points, which was set on Nov. 10 in Phoenix.
Defensively, Orlando had just as much trouble containing a Hawks’ team that shot 55.8 percent in the first half. Not only did Atlanta’s patchwork offense score 28 points in the paint, it also riddled the Magic with seven 3-pointers.
Two of those first-half 3-pointers came from Dedmon, who has turned himself into a solid threat from afar with his work in the offseason and in Hawks’ practices. In two seasons with the Magic (2014-15 and 2015-16), Dedmon attempted just one 3-pointer and missed it. He came into Sunday’s game having made 45 3-pointers this season for the Hawks, drawing him praise from Atlanta head coach Mike Budenholzer.
``He’s been great on the floor and in the locker room,’’ Budenholzer said of the undrafted center. ``The way his game has developed is a testament to how he’s worked.’’
Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.